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17-11-2022 11:05

From unknown to media darling: Benjamin’s battle to get a permanent residence permit

Although Benjamin Schenkel had a permanent job at Nordea, learnt Danish and did lots of voluntary work, he was denied a permanent residence permit. That became the start of a battle to stay in Denmark that lasted several months – now he uses his experience to improve the Danish immigration rules and help others in similar situations.
Benjamin shenkel

Benjamin Schenkel first learned about Denmark when he did an internship in 2010 in Shanghai in the American World Expo pavilion. Here he became friends with a group of Danes who told him about the Danish welfare system and values.

“They told me that Denmark is one of the happiest nations in the world and that there is a high level of equality in society – and the possibility to be who you are. And that health care and education are tax-funded. “That seemed too good to be true, so I thought I had to check it out,” he remembers. 

That’s why his first holiday after his internship was to Denmark. 

“I was deeply impressed by the Danes’ understanding of the world. They were very principled, honest, good at taking action, communicating and respected differences. I got the best impression.” 

Already on the flight back to the US, he decided to move to Denmark. 

“At the time it wasn’t easy living in the US as a homosexual. There wasn’t the same acceptance as in Denmark and it wasn’t possible to get married, for instance. I was afraid that it would affect my career and my future.” 

Ten graduate applications opened the door to Nordea 

“I really wanted to work in the financial sector, so to increase my chances I sent off ten applications. And luckily it paid off. I ended up becoming a graduate in Trading in Markets. It was a really good time where I got to know the financial sector.”  

After his time as a graduate he got a job at Group Risk, became head of the Danish LGBT+ and Allies group at Nordea and head of the organisation WEF Global Shapers Copenhagen, which is working on making Copenhagen a more sustainable and inclusive place to live. 

“I was completely sold on the Danish lifestyle and really wanted to live here and contribute to society, but as a non-permanent citizen in Denmark it was really stressful,” he says. 

In December 2020 Benjamin Schenkel therefore decided that Denmark would be his home country and he applied for a permanent residence permit.

“I was afraid that it would be rejected so I regularly called to check how things stood and asked if they needed more documentation to prove that I did voluntary work and really loved Denmark. Every time the message was: “We’ll get back to you in case of problems with your application”, but it didn’t happen,” explains Benjamin Schenkel.

So when the reply finally came more than a year later, it was a big shock: 

Benjamin Schenkel’s case on the front page of the Danish newspaper Politiken: This is my home
“My application had been rejected. The voluntary work that I did was not “Danish enough”. 

Benjamin Schenkel

Help from Nordea and politicians 

Benjamin Schenkel told his leader about the rejection, who was determined to help him file a complaint. 

“My leader was really understanding. I was afraid they would fire me because I’d become a headache for Nordea, but instead I received so much support. It was really fantastic.”

Nordea hired a lawyer to look into the case and Benjamin Schenkel immediately started collecting more documentation of his voluntary work. He also contacted several politicians to tell them about his case and one of them put him in touch with the Danish newspaper Politiken. On the day the first article was published, Benjamin Schenkel made a post on LinkedIn that went viral.

“I got a crazy number of reactions and it poured in with messages from people I didn’t even know,” he says. 

One of them wrote: “On behalf of Denmark and the Danes: sorry!
Another one wrote: “Unfair and absurd. We need to attract international manpower.” And the messages and likes just kept coming. 

Benjamin Schenkel then contacted politicians such as Rosa Lund (The Red-Green Alliance), Marcus Knuth (The Conservative Party) and Mads Fuglede (The Liberal Party) to put further spotlight on his case. 

“They really listened, and apologised. It was so nice. I was really lucky that my case was so extreme that it got their attention and made them shake their heads,” he says. 

The politicians took selfies with him and posted pictures on social media. That put more focus on the case. 

More prominent people shook their heads, more selfies were posted and more newspaper articles were written. And suddenly one day – five months later – a letter arrived from the Danish Immigration Service. Benjamin Schenkel had been granted a permanent residence permit.

“I was really happy but also very surprised that I after all the media attention suddenly got my permanent residence permit. That’s why I knew that I couldn’t stop here. I would be a hollow victory if I didn’t use my knowledge to help others and to change the system. So I decided to go all the way.”

Selfie with Søren Pape Poulsen, leader of the Danish Conservative Party, for the social media.

Now helps other foreigners in similar situations 

Benjamin Schenkel has founded the organisation Fair & Fornuftig together with a friend who has also been affected by the stringent rules of the Danish Immigration Service. Together they aim to change the Danish immigration rules and help more foreigners, who like themselves already live in Denmark and contribute to society in many ways, to get their permanent residence permits. 

To understand the Danish immigration rules Benjamin Schenkel went to his local library and read 15 different books on the subject. He has now in collaboration with the other members of Fair & Fornuftig drafted 10 commandments for a better immigration policy. And when they learn of people who have got stuck in the system, they help to investigate their cases and attract media attention. 

“We just want to help others and make sure that the rules are not too narrow and specific but fair for everybody. Everybody should be treated fairly, and through our organisation we attempt to make the immigration debate more nuanced, increase the respect for international talents and seek pragmatic solutions.” 

Read Fair & Fornuftig’s 10 commandments for a better immigration policy.

If you would like to know more about Fair & Fornuftig or become involved in the organisation’s work, you’re welcome to contact Benjamin Schenkel.

Blue book

Benjamin Schenkel is 33 years old and works as Senior Risk Expert at Nordea. He originally comes from Pennsylvania, USA.

He holds an MA in international economic policy and is currently studying for an MBA at the University of Chicago.

When he is not studying in Chicago, he lives at Christianshavn where he enjoys going for walks in the area.

He loves Danish history and has a particular interest in the Copenhagen fire of 1728. That’s why he has put together a walking tour that shows the transformation of the city after the fire.

Last summer Benjamin Schenkel founded the organisation Fair & Fornuftig where he together with its members help other foreigners get permanent residence permits.

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